Monday, March 31, 2014

The Great pied Hornbills

We were on a long trek one beautiful mist filled morning. As we entered the forest, the vehicular sounds dimmed and the forest sounds increased exponentially. One moment we were hearing our vehicle being parked and the next… Nothing!! Every now and then the wind would blow through the trees and the leaves would gently sway and give the characteristic rustling sound as if they were singing and dancing. As we went deeper into the forest, we slowly started hearing the birds. Some were minute whistles, some were loud cackling sounds and some a beautiful song.
After a rather arduous walk, we came to rest in a clearing. It was a beautiful place, something out of our imagination. There were large trees about 30-40 feet in height, with a circumference equivalent to 7- 8 people standing in a circle with their arms spread out and their fingers barely touching each others’, standing in an almost perfect circle with the dappling sunlight gently touching the forest floor through the foliage.  All of us sat in silence, some even in the meditative pose to hear the sound of the forest. In this silence, we could hear the water flowing over the rocks from a nearby stream, the wind rustling through the foliage, birds calling each other from the tree tops and surprisingly ever a little forest cockroach walking in between the leaf litter that was decaying on the forest floor.
After 5 minutes of meditation, we came to understand the power of silence and the power of listening. We got up from our places like a couple of sages getting up after attaining the knowledge of the universe. We walked quietly for about 10 minutes. The silence was really something!! All of us just looked around, noted our observations and quietly moved on! This silence, however, was broken by a loud, resounding sound that is like a mix of a boom with a squawk ( like a GWWAANK – GWAANK, GWONK – GWONK ). The sound was pretty bad actually, but the magnitude made us all stop dead in our tracks and look up for the owner of that voice.
 Now here is our situation, we were at this point of time walking on the mountain side with barely any leg space. One side was the slope of the mountain and the other a 30 foot drop into the valley through a whole lot of foliage and bamboo. All of us were balancing like tightrope walkers in a circus, for our dear lives and we get to hear this loud GWONK from right above us. Already at our wits end balancing for our lives, this sound really got some of us down the slope even before we knew it. As for the rest, they just froze like they had seen a bear or an elephant in front of them.
After some neck and back straining moments of trying to figure out where the sound came from, we saw these 2 magnificent birds fly off from the tree right above us. Huge, near rectangular, black wings with a large patch of white and yellow, sizable head with a humongous beak, and wing beats that resounded like an aircraft flying through the valley – GREAT PIED HORNBILLS! We heard the wing beat for over 15 minutes, though the birds were long gone. No one moved a muscle till the flapping stopped and after that….we looked at each others’ faces with the typical wide eyed stare of shock and surprise. We kept mum for the rest of the journey, least we lose the moment by talking. Enroute we saw 6 more of the great pied hornbills flying over the valley, but the sightings did not have the same effect.
At the campsite, there was no silence. The talk was about the Great Pied Hornbills, till post lunch. Some of us were SO excited that the talk about the hornbills went on even during the resting and refreshing time in the tents!! Only by next morning the talk had subsided.
After that day, it was as if everything in our lives had changed. We went back home EVOLVED!